Chapter  3: Philosophy of Religion

Proofs for the Existence of God

The Problem of Evil

There is an argument that is advanced in order to prove that either there is no god at all or that the god of the western religions can not exist.


The Problem of Evil poses a philosophical threat to the design argument because it implies that the design of the cosmos and the designer of the cosmos are flawed. We can know they are flawed due to the preponderance of evil within the cosmos. 

What is the Problem of Evil?

The problem of evil is not that there is evil in the world.  The problem of evil is not there there is so much evil in the world.  The problem of evil is not that there is not a balance between good and evil in the world.  Well then, what is the problem of evil ?

Simply put it is this: how can there be a deity that is all good and all knowing and all powerful at the same time that evil exists? How can there be a caring and benevolent God when there exists evil in the world ? The Problem of Evil relates to what would appear to be a contradiction in the idea of the deity.  The deity is a being that is all good and all powerful and yet creates or allows or permits evil to exist.  It is something of a problem, something that needs to be explained or rectified.  It is a problem with the CONCEPT of the deity in the Western religions after Christianity overlays the Greek notions of the ideal onto the Hebrew deity: God.  One answer to this question is to say that human moral agents, not the deity or God, are the cause of the evil. The deity is not responsible for the moral evil and in some sense created a world in which it is better that there be moral evil than not to have moral evil or even the possibility of moral evil.  This answer is insufficient to solve the problem because every manner of defending it has failed over time to explain how a deity that is all perfect and in particular All Knowing and All Powerful and All Good would permit or allow or cause evil to exist.  How would a deity that knows the future be all good if the deity creates agents that cause evil and the deity created them knowing that they would create evil?

Some prefer to think of the problem as the Problem of Suffering rather than the Problem of Evil. How can you reconcile the existence of so much suffering with the existence of an omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent God; as deity that is reported to be all loving and all merciful? 

Maybe God knows about the suffering and would stop it but can not stop it - that would imply God is not omnipotent. Maybe God is able to stop the suffering and would want to but does not know about it - that would imply God is not omniscient. Maybe God knows about the suffering and is able to stop it but does not wish to assuage the pain - that would imply God is not omnibenevolent.  These options are explored by those in a tradition of thought known as Process Theology (see below).  In the very least, David Hume argues, the existence of evil does not justify a belief in a caring Creator.

VIEW:  Problem of Evil

VIEW: The Problem of Evil: Crash Course Philosophy #13

 Here is a good Overview of this Problem of Evil.

 READ: Notes on the Problem of EVIL

OK  Let's look at the problem this way:

The problem of evil is the result of the combination of a set of ideas.  It is a problem with CONCEPTS and IDEAS

A. the deity is ALL GOOD

B. The deity is ALL KNOWING

C. The deity is ALL POWERFUL

D. Evil exists

D(1). Natural evil exists

D(2).Moral Evil exists



1. Get rid of A or B or C or D

2. Get rid of the idea of the deity altogether

3. Somehow try to explain that there is a way to have A+B+C+D without a contradiction or inconsistency.

If (3) succeeded there would be no PROBLEM OF EVIL.  There have been many people over two thousand years who think that there is no way that attempting (3) can succeed.

so, there are four basic approaches to the problem and each will be examined in the following sections.

bulletTHEODICY explain how the traditional idea of the deity could be consistent with the existence of evil (3)
bulletTRANSFORMATION of EVIL  transform the idea of evil so that it is not evil-(1)change D
bulletPROCESS THEOLOGY change the idea of the deity-(1)Change A or B or C
bulletATHEISM there is no deity at all and thus no problem with evil and its relationship to the deity (2)


The problem results from the apparent inconsistency or contradiction  in a number of traits associated with the Supreme Being: God.

To put this Argument into a Logical Form:

Consider this valid argument pattern

Premise 1: P> Q

Premise 2: -Q


Conclusion: Then –P

(Pattern called Denying the Consequent or Modus Tollens)



If fire, then Oxygen

No Oxygen


Then, no fire


Now applied to the Problem of Evil


Premise 1: D(K,P,G) >N

Premise 2: -N

Conclusion: -D(K,P,G)


What does -D(K,P,G) mean?

- D(K,P,G)= - D(K,P,G) or D(K,P)= or D(K,G)=  D(P,G)

1)If there is a Deity (all Knowing ,Powerful, Good) >then NO EVIL

2) There is Evil   =not no evil=  -N

CONCLUSION: There is no Deity(that is all Knowing ,All Powerful,All Good) =   -D(K,P,G)


What does -D(K,P,G) mean?

- D(K,P,G)= - D(K,P,G) or D(K,P)= or D(K,G)=  D(P,G)


What does -D(K,P,G) mean?

-D(K,P,G)= - D(K,P,G) or D(K,P)= or D(K,G)=  D(P,G)


It does NOT mean that there is no GOD. That is but one possibility.

It does mean that there is either no GOD at all or no GOD that at the same time is ALL GOOD and ALL POWERFUL and ALL KNOWING.



 Consider this: 

  1. God is all powerful
  2. If omnipotent God exists, there can be no evil
  3. God is all good
  4. If omnibenificent God exists , there can be no evil
  5. Evil exists
  6. If Evil exists, there can be no God

  7.   Therefore, it logically follows that


  1. God does not exist at all
  2. God is not all powerful- lacking in some power
  3. God is not all knowing
  4. God is not all good -creator of evil or  lacking in something that is good

The four approaches will be presented and criticized.  Before doing so some general background points are in order.


As people grow and mature and learn they acquire beliefs and entire belief systems.  They do so through receiving and accepting as true stories about how things are in this world and in a realm beyond this one and through the beliefs implicit in ordinary language and its usages.  Thus are acquired assumptions and presuppositions for the thought processes entered into through life.  In the beginning those acquiring such beliefs want to be accepted and even valued by the various groups of which they are members or for which they desire to be members, so there is an emphasis on acceptance of the beliefs shared by members of those groups and not on review or criticism of them.  There is little, if any, reflective thought or critical thinking taking place.  Little is needed if the majority of group members are operating with the beliefs without questioning of them.

Once acquired the belief systems function as a basis for the acquisition of additional beliefs.  As another idea is presented it is placed within the context of the previously acquired beliefs and if the new candidate for inclusion is consistent with or coherent with the prior beliefs and ideas it is accepted as also being true.  This is the coherentist theory of truth.  The problem with that approach to truth is that there needs to be some other method for the establishment of the fundamental beliefs or else the entire structure of beliefs while internally coherent might not be supported by any evidence external to the beliefs themselves.

As belief systems expand they can reach a point where beliefs and ideas have been accepted too hastily and when a culture or individual reach a point where reflective thought can be afforded inconsistencies and perhaps even outright contradictions may appear upon reflection.  Upon the first realization of problems, the belief systems will not be abandoned altogether and will not even be thrown into serious doubt.  Rather there will be attempts to preserve the belief system through the introduction of qualifiers and alternate interpretations designed to account for what are to be termed “apparent” discrepancies.  This process will continue until the introduction of the qualifiers and alternative interpretations reaches a point where they generate the need for even further such qualifiers and the process then becomes so burdensome that the fundamental beliefs and ideas may then come under the most careful scrutiny and there is an acceptance of a need for an alternate set of beliefs that are more internally coherent and satisfying to demands of reason and the desire for external grounding.

This occurred in the time of Socrates when the many stories about the gods and goddesses were seen through the eyes of critical reasoning to be inconsistent and incoherent.  For Socrates a basis for the grounding of morality and the social order was needed other than that provided by the stories of the Greek deities.  In addition to sharing this realization with Socrates, Plato saw that the ideas and theories of the pre-Socratics were inconsistent and there was needed an alternate view of what made anything real and how one could know anything.

Now for Socrates, Plato and Aristotle the idea of the Greek deities came to make little sense in the light of reason and so the idea of a more abstract entity emerges with them as more satisfying as an explanation of origins and order.   Their ideas satisfy the dictates of reason for which they abandoned the blind adherence to the stories of their ancestors.  These are developments that mark the origins of philosophical thought in the West.

With other western religious belief systems there were also prompts to the development of a critical thought tradition. The early Hebrew deity is one that has apparent weaknesses and is not at all perfect in every way.  It is jealous and vindictive and unjust. For the Christians the idea of the Hebrew deity was not going to be acceptable to those who had come under the influence of the Greek manner of thought.    The Christians take the idea of the all perfect being , the source of all that is true , good and beautiful, from the Greeks and layer it over the idea of the single deity of the Hebrews.  The ideas about the qualities of the early Hebrew god when combined ideas about the Greek ideal deity have made for many problems.  The Western traditions treat the scriptures as being in some sense divinely inspired or authored and thus, for many in those traditions who are conservative and literalists, they carry the ideas of the early Hebrew deity along with them leading to complications as there arises the need to explain how an all good deity and an all merciful deity can be so cruel and vindictive as in some of the stories in the early books or chapters of the scriptures.   The PROBLEM of EVIL does not exist for the old testament deity.  That deity is not ALL GOOD and not ALL KNOWING and not ALL POWERFUL.  The stories in the bible are filled with passages indicating that the deity of the Hebrews was not an "All Perfect Being".

The problem of evil comes about when the concept of the deity is changed into one in which the being has all good properties at the same time so that it is thought to be ALL GOOD and ALL KNOWING and ALL POWERFUL.

There are several ways to deal with the problem.  Process Theology changes the concept of the deity that is ALL GOOD and ALL KNOWING and ALL POWERFUL into a deity that is lacking in one or more of those properties.  They do it when they reduce the deity to some finite creature-usually thinking of the deity as being similar to a human being- the concept of the deity that causes the PROBLEM of EVIL is a concept that is not one of a human being or any finite being.  

The PROBLEM of EVIL has to do with the concept  of the deity  including that the deity is ALL GOOD and ALL KNOWING and ALL POWERFUL.  It is not a problem caused by the Bible stories.  In the bible stories in the first books of the bible.   The deity of the old testament is not ALL GOOD.  The deity of the old testament-the Hebrews- commits, orders and directs atrocities-many very evil acts.  The deity of the old testament is not ALL KNOWING because it creates a being-Lucifer-not knowing that it will do evil.  The deity of the old testament creates creates humans-not knowing that they will do evil-disobey.  The deity comes upon Adam and Eve to discover what they had done.  The deity of the old testament is not ALL POWERFUL because it does not stop or end the existence of Lucifer. The deity of the old testament is not responsible for evil because in the story book the cause of evil is placed with an evil agent-Lucifer-the devil-the dark prince, etc...

Using the bible is not helpful to resolve this problem as there are too many inconsistent passages in the sacred scriptures in the West.  To illustrate just take a basic question:  " Is evil from God?  "

bulletNo   the deity is not the cause of evil   (Deut 32:4, Ps 19:7-8, 145:9, Mic 7:2, James 1:13). 
bulletYes  the deity is the cause of evil   (Isa 45:7, Jer 18:11, Lam 3:38, Ezek 20:25, Amos 3:6).

No   the deity is not the cause of evil    


Deuteronomy 32:4, 4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect,  and all his ways are just.  A faithful God who does no wrong,  upright and just is he.


Psalms 19:7-8,  7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.  The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.  8 The precepts of the LORD are right,  giving joy to the heart.  The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.


Psalm 145:9  9 The LORD is good to all;  he has compassion on all he has made.


Micah 7:2,  2 The godly have been swept from the land;   not one upright man remains.  All men lie in wait to shed blood;   each hunts his brother with a net.


 James 1:13    13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;

 YES the deity is cause of all things GOOD and EVIL


  Isaiah  45:7,  7   I form the light and create darkness,  I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.


Jeremiah  18:11,  11 "Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, 'This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.'


Lamentations 3:38 38  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?


Ezekiel 20:25 25 I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by;


Amos 3:6  6 When a trumpet sounds in a city,  do not the people tremble?    When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?

So when anyone thinks of the deity as  the being of the old bible stories the problem of evil is "solved"  by abandoning the concept that creates the problem in the first place.  If one thinks of the deity as a parent not knowing what its children will do or not responsible for what its children do or as some being testing humans or not able to prevent evil then the problem is "solved"  by abandoning the concept that creates the problem in the first place when the deity is changed from a being with infinitely good properties and powers into a mere human.

The Problem of Evil arises as an attempt to give an account that makes sense as to how an all perfect being could exist at the same time that there exists moral evil.  Troubles with a simple belief prompt critical reflection and the desire to use reason to support the belief system.  Consideration of the troublesome issues led to Augustine and Aquinas moving beyond the traditions of faith and into philosophical thought and a reliance on reason to interpret and defend key  beliefs in the Christian tradition.



"Evil" has a wider range of definitions than that for which human or supernatural agents are responsible. 

There are two main types of evil:

  1. Moral evil - This covers the willful acts of human beings (such as murder, rape, etc.)
  2. Natural evil - This refers to natural disasters (such as famines, floods, etc.)

Of these two types, we may further divide both of them into the following two classes:

  1. Physical evil - This means bodily pain or mental anguish (fear, illness, grief, war, etc.)
  2. Metaphysical evil - This refers to such things as imperfection and chance (criminals going unpunished, deformities, etc.)

The problem itself arises because of certain qualities which religious believers grant to God, and the consequences of these given certain observations about the world.

To illustrate these consider three qualities that most religious believers would not want to deny to the deity, the single deity and Supreme Being, the God: absolute goodness (omnibenevolence), absolute power (omnipotence) and absolute knowledge (omniscience). Now, add to this the observation that there is evil in the world. Setting aside for the moment the question of how a good God could create a world with evil in it, ask yourself why such a deity does not do something to help combat such evil. Many theologians and philosophers over the centuries have asked this question and we will now look at some of the answers they have given.

According to the history of this issue and contemporary concerns it is moral evil that is the crux of the problem more than natural evil. Natural evil may be conceived of as simply part of nature and not evil at all. However, there are those who think that it may be possible to accept that God accepts moral evil and such evil may have a purpose or explanation consist with the existence of a supreme being but that there could be no good reason for God to have natural evil in the Universe.

There is therefore the argument against the existence of God based on Natural Evil.


1) If God exists, then there exists a being who is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good.
2) If there existed a being who were omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good, then there would be no natural evil.
3) But there is natural evil.

Conclusion) God does not exist.
READ: the Argument against The Existence of God based on Natural Evil


Now we focus on the key questions;

  1.  Is it possible for there to be an All Powerful, All Knowing and All Good deity and for moral evil to exist at the same time?
  2.  Can the apparent inconsistency be resolved in any manner that preserves all the characteristics of an All Perfect or Supreme Being?
  3.  Is it necessary to change the idea of the Supreme Being to account for the simultaneous existence of moral evil and a supreme being?
  4. Is it necessary to change the idea of the nature of evil to account for the simultaneous existence of moral evil and a supreme being?
  5.  Does the existence of moral evil lead to the conclusion that there is no deity at all?  Does it lead to the conclusion that there is no All Perfect Being?

Signs of a problem


In the opening of the dialogue by Plato, PHAEDO , Plato has Socrates recognize that things come in opposing pairs.  If there was no pain we would not appreciate being well and pleasure.  When applied to the problem of Evil it would mean that if there is to be GOOD there must be EVIL and so whatever is called GOOD must come from the source of all creation and that in turn means that from that source comes EVIL as the necessary counterpart to GOOD.  This then means that the Single Supreme Being is not only the creator of GOOD but also of EVIL.  How then is the Supreme Being the deity, the creator of all to be considered as all good if the deity created evil as well as the good that there is? 


If evil is not directly the creation of the deity but comes about through the actions of a fallen angel, LUCIFER,  and the weakness of human beings who succumb to temptation to do moral evil then how is it not the result of what the deity has done?  If all comes from the deity then would not evil as well as the good come from the deity?  Now if EVIL comes from the deity or  GOD then how BAD could it be?  If EVIL comes from GOD, then how could GOD punish those who do it?  If EVIL comes from LUCIFER and from human failings and from temptations, then how could the ALL LOVING and MERCIFUL GOD punish those whom the GOD knew in advance were created by that GOD with those weaknesses and knowing in ADVANCE that they would fail?   How could the ALL PERFECT BEING not stop Lucifer, take away the failings, and prevent the temptations?  If the causes of evil doing are not stopped and if instead are quite to the contrary actually created by GOD, why would an ALL LOVING God punish those made imperfect by the deity and who GOD knew before they were created would give in to the EVIL that GOD creates, permits and knew in advance would overcome the creatures that GOD made as imperfect?


Bible stories do not solve the Problem of Evil they make it worse as they are stories from the Hebrews who did not think of the deity as being All Perfect and All Good.  The idea of the deity in the early bible stories is not the idea or concept of the deity that produces the Problem of Evil.  The deity of the Hebrews appears not able to place a check on Lucifer.  The deity of the Hebrews might not have been thought of as being All Powerful.  Thus, the use of the bible to address the Problem of Evil merely introduces troublesome historical elements into the entire matter.  If there is a fallen angel responsible for the evil and then the deity is the creator of that angel then why is the deity not respinsible for the evil done by the fallen angel if the deity knew before creating the angel everything that the abgel would do?   The Hebrew deity had not the All Knowing characteristic of later thought.  So for the Hebrews and their stories there is no problem of evil because they did not have the Concept of the Deity that produces the Problem of Evil.  One approach to dealing with the problem and solving it in some sense is to chaneg the idea of the deity (Process Theology) to something closer to the earlier ideas.  Take away the All Powerful or the All Knwoing or the All Good character of the deity and there is no problem of evil as there was none until after the Christian era began.


Any attempt to make the existence of an All-knowing, All-powerful and All-good or omnibenevolent God consistent with the existence of evil is known as a Theodicy.  It is an attempt to justify the ways of god to humans. It is as attempt to explain the coexistence of God and Evil.  

Now what operates in these attempts to rescue the idea of the existence of a deity from the charge that there can not be a deity if there is moral evil is the very subtle altering of the idea of the deity from that of a supreme and all perfect being to something other than that.   All criticisms of these apologists or defenders involve exposing the subtle attempt to convert the idea of the supreme being from one that so perfect as to generate the Problem of Evil in the first place to the idea of the deity as not quite being all perfect or all knowing or all powerful or all good.  The Problem of Evil is the result of :

Logical Analysis

The inconsistency in the ideas of an all knowing, all powerful and all good being that is the creator of the universe with the existence of moral evil.

Historical Explanation:

The early Hebrew deity is one that has apparent weaknesses and is not at all perfect in every way.  It is jealous and vindictive and unjust. For the Christians the idea of the Hebrew deity was not going to be acceptable to those whom they hoped to convert: those who had come under the influence of the Greek manner of thought, those other than the Hebrews.    The Christians take the idea of the all perfect being , the source of all that is true, good and beautiful, from the Greeks and layer it over the idea of the single deity of the Hebrews and the history of that idea as presented in the Hebrew scriptures.  The ideas about the qualities of the early Hebrew god when combined ideas about the Greek ideal deity have made for many problems.


Augustine:    Humans are free and Humans have fallen because they are as children

St. Augustine proposed a solution to the problem by blaming it on the Fall of Humanity after the disobedience in the Garden of Eden. From this view, humankind is responsible for evil by being led astray by Satan. This not only absolves the deity, the  God,  of creating evil but also allows the deity  to show the world its love by bringing a form or version of itself into physical form in the presence of the Christ into the world. The Supreme Being, God,  is seen as involved in soul making. Humans are growing from bios to zoe: from undeveloped life to divine love and spiritual life. However, the existence of Evil leads to the questioning of the existence of an all loving and all good and powerful deity.   The large amount of EVIL is particularly difficult to explain.

Irenaeus  Developmental and Teleological view   God is involved with soul making.  

Irenaeus (130-202 AD) thought that the existence of evil actually serves a purpose. From his point of view, evil provides the necessary problems through which we take part in what he calls "soul-making". From this point of view, evil is a means to an end in as much as if it did not exist, there would be no means of spiritual development.  However , with this view god is the author of evil and although it has a purpose it challenges the nature of god as being all good.

Irenaeus' view has been put forward in modern times by such philosophers as John Hick (Evil and the God of Love, 1966) and Richard Swinburne. According to this view the pains and sufferings of the world are meant by God to act as a means of producing a truly good person.

However the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov has severely criticized this view .  Using human suffering as a means to good is criticized and condemned on the grounds that the suffering of one child can never be justified in terms of what good results.  Again this defense of the deity brings into question the all -good aspect of the deity.

John Hick: Developmental and Teleological view   God is involved with soul making.  

Hick's answer involves interpreting the creation story in Genesis in a non-literal fashion. Rather than regarding the story as an account of what has already happened, he suggests that we consider it an account of what is currently taking place. The idea here is that we are an integral part of God's creation. In essence, we have not yet reached the final 'day' of creation. God is still, in a way, creating humanity (using us as tools and as that which is shaped). This earth is seen as a factory for making souls. This creation requires the possibility that we suffer in order to provide incentive for improvement. ---Michael J. Connelly, Longview Community College


 Hick, John.  “Evil and Soul-Making.” Evil and the God of Love.  Harper & Rowe, Publishers, Inc., 1966.   pp. 253-261.

Summary by Meghan Ramsay, QCC 2004

In his essay “Evil and Soul-Making,” John Hick attempts to justify the problem of evil.  It is a theodicy cased on the free will defense.  The majority of theodicies that have dominated Western Christendom are Augustinian in nature.  According to St. Augustine, God created man without sin and placed him in a paradise free of sin.  The decline of man occurred as a result of his weakness in the face of temptation and his misuse of free will.  This theory holds that the grace of God will save some of humanity, but at the same time, some of humanity will suffer eternal damnation.  Hick refers to this Augustinian Theodicy as the “majority report.”  However, Hick believes that the Irenean tradition is more plausible. 

The Irenean tradition, or the “minority report,” as designated by Hick, comes from Irenaeus and the early Greek founders of the Church.  It is two centuries older than the Augustinian tradition, and it holds that man was not created as a complete being without sin that proceeded to rebel and fall from grace.  Instead, Hick argues, man is in a constant state of creational evolvement.  According to the Irenean tradition, man is created in two steps, Bios and Zoe.  The first step, Bios is the creation of the physical universe and organic life.  This phase continues with the creation of man, an organic being with a personal life who is capable of having a relationship with God.  This phase is the creation of man in the image of God.  The second phase of this creation is man achieving goodness and personal worth.  This is the quality of Zoe or the attainment of the likeness of God.  This is what Hick refers to as the “soul-making” process. 

Hick’s basic argument is that the relationship between God and humankind is a parent/child relationship on a grand scale.  For a parent to produce a well-rounded, moral child, there is a two-fold process.  First there is the actual conception and birth of the child, which can be compared to the physical creation of man.  The second step for a parent is to teach the child the difference between wrong and right and between good and bad.  The parent must teach the child how to avoid temptation and live the good life.  On a larger scale, man must learn how to live the good life as God sees fit.  Since humankind is endowed with free will, this must be a cooperative effort. 

Some would argue that God could have just created man in this final, perfected state from the outset.  However, Hick argues that doing so would be akin to God creating man as a pet in a cage.  Additionally, he argues that such initial perfection would not be nearly as valuable as perfection achieved through trial and error.  According to Hick, goodness achieved over a period of time through the trial and tribulation of resisting temptation and sin involves strength and “moral effort.”  Hick deduces that God would certainly hold this goodness achieved through strength and “moral effort” in higher regard than goodness achieved by doing nothing more than simply being created in a perfect form. 

In response to the criticism that a loving God would not create a world full of evil and temptation, Hick once again refers to the parent/child analogy.  Even the most loving parent does not indulge his/her child’s every whim.  The most loving parents do enjoy providing their children pleasures, but at the same time, a loving parent realizes that there are times when a child must be denied immediate pleasure in order to gain greater values, such as “moral integrity, unselfishness, compassion, courage, humour, reverence for the truth, and perhaps above all the capacity for love.”  Thus, according to Hick, the presence of evil is transcended by its necessity for “soul-making.”

Hick claims that it would be impossible for the deity to have created human with free will and yet not with the ability to choose evil.  Hick claims that either humans are made free and that leads to moral evil or else they are made without freedom as with robots and that would make it possible to avoid there being any acts of moral evil.  It is better that there be free will and so the deity made the universe with free will in it and that leads to the existence of moral evil.


Madden and Hare: Counter to John Hick

These two philosophers argue against the position of Hick.  They claim that Hick commits three fallacies:

    1. All or Nothing fallacy- but, there could be an intermediary position between being free and being robots (puppets)
    2. It could be worse – but, it could be better
    3. Slippery slope( if the world were perfect, humans would need to be robots) – but, the existence of limits is possible (freedom within limits)

They claim that it is possible that there could be a universe created by a deity that could have creatures of free will who do not choose evil.  God could have chosen not to permit those humans to be conceived that god knew in advance of their conception would use their free will to choose and to do evil.  The deity, God,  might permit only those fetuses to develop that creator deity, God,  knew in advance would lead to the birth and life of  basically good person who would avoid choosing to do evil.


Madden, Edward H. and Peter H. Hare.  “A Critique of Hick’s Theodicy.”  Evil and the Concept of God.  Springfield, IL:  Charles C. Thomas, 1968.   pp. 83-90, 102-103.

Summary by Meghan Ramsay, QCC 2004 

Edward Madden and Peter H. Hare begin by stating three fallacies that are often employed in attempts to solve the Problem of Evil.  These fallacies are:  “all or nothing,” “it could be worse,” and “slippery slope.”  According to Madden and Hare, John Hick uses all three erroneous beliefs adroitly in his free will defense. 

In his theodicy, Hick argues that without free will, all people would be nothing more than a “pet animal” in a cage.  Hick asserts that God had to create people with the ability to do evil, for otherwise, people would not be able to participate in “soul-making” which is what serves to bring men closer to God.  However, Madden and Hare point out that there can’t have only been two options available to God.  Thus, this is an “all or nothing” argument.  Madden and Hare give an analogy of God as a headmaster at a liberal school.  At God’s school, the freedom of the students is paramount.  God does not want to have students who learn only because they fear punishment.  Instead, he wants students who take an active role in learning for the love of knowledge.  Thus, God declares that there are no rules and no organized classes at his school, and each student will be responsible for his own education.  However, simply because strict rules would result in negative consequences does not mean that having no regulation is ideal.  It is a false dichotomy to suggest that, just as it is a false dichotomy to assert that God had no other options in creating humans.

Hick also employs this all or nothing fallacy when discussing the “initial epistemic distance” between man and God.  According to Hick, God does not reveal much information about  “himself” to humans because he does not want to harm the development of people’s attitudes towards Him.  However, Madden and Hare disagree.  They take their headmaster analogy further by stating that this is parallel to God the headmaster never addressing the students, so as to avoid “spoon-feeding” them.  Once again Hick utilizes a false dichotomy in asserting that God either must tell all about himself or remain aloof. 

Hick then shifts to what Madden and Hare refer to as the “it could be worse” fallacy.  Hick argues that some evil is necessary in order for mankind to achieve goodness, and that goodness achieved through trial and error is better than goodness given to man from the outset.  Madden and Hare argue, however, that simply because goodness might come from evil, this argument only shows that evil would be even worse if good did not result from it.  In essence, the argument really does not show a need for evil.  It only shows that it could be worse, there could be no resulting good.  However, Madden and Hare point out that this argument ignores the fact that just as easily as it could be worse, it could also be better.

Hick also claims that if God were to begin removing evil, there would be no point at which to stop, unless He removed all evil.  Hick argues that if God were to remove all evil, He would be creating a hedonistic paradise, and soul-making would be impossible in such a world.  However, this is a slippery slope argument.  In effect, Hick asserts that God would have no method to gauge the effect of removing each type of evil.  Madden and Hare point out that God could remove evil to the point where there was just enough to justify it as a means to an end of soul making. 

Finally, Hick appeals to mystery in his argument.  He says that the mystery of why God does what He does also helps to foster soul making.  Again, he employs the all or nothing strategy by saying that without the occasional unjust, unwarranted or needless evil, there would be no sympathy.  Madden and Hare note that there are three ways of criticizing this idea.  First off, it is possible to have sympathy for those who are suffering as a means to a desired end, such as a husband sympathizing with his wife who is suffering from labor pains.  The suffering brings about both sympathy and a desired end.  Secondly, even if it is necessary for there to be undue suffering to increase compassion, there needn’t be nearly as much unjust suffering as there presently is.  A miniscule amount of suffering would do just as well. Finally, unjust suffering may cause compassion, but it also breeds resentment.  Madden and Hare argue that it is likely that the negative aspects of resentment would outweigh the positive ones of compassion. 

J.L. Mackie: suggested reading:  J.L. Mackie and the Problem of Evil

He argues that there is a logical inconsistency with God’s existence and Evil at the same time

  1. God is omnipotent and omnibeneficent (all good)
  2. EVIL exists
  3. A good being always eliminates EVIL as far as it can.
  4. Therefore, theists are inconsistent

 Alvin  Plantinga :  against Mackie

A modern advocate of Augustine's view can be found in Alvin Plantinga (God, Freedom and Evil, 1974) who claimed that for God to have created a being who could only have performed good actions would have been logically impossible.  Here are his basic points:


God may have good reasons for permitting EVIL


Free Will demands the possibility for EVIL


God could not make Humans free and guarantee no EVIL (no sin)



This is the idea that humans sin in all possible worlds or else


God is not all good or not all powerful


God can not create a world with moral Good and without moral EVIL

Therefore, every world that God creates must have not only the possibility of evil in it but actual evil as well.


“The Free Will Defense” by Alvin Plantinga 

Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004)

In examining the Problem of Evil, Alvin Plantinga holds that the Free Will Defense is an acceptable method for overcoming the claim that the Problem of Evil negates the existence of God.  Plantinga outlines the Free Will Defense as stating, “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable than a world containing no free creatures.”  Plantinga also states that in order to create creatures that are freely capable of committing morally good acts, He must also create creatures that are simultaneously just as capable of committing morally evil acts.  Additionally, God cannot simultaneously give these creatures the freedom to commit evil and yet prevent them from doing so.  One objection to the Free Will Defense is that it is possible for beings that are capable of committing evil to never do so.  Based upon God’s omnipotence, it is possible that a world full of such creatures could exist.  Those who object to the Free Will Defense use this line of argument to assert that either God is not wholly good or that God is not omnipotent.  Plantinga also offers the argument of Leibniz who stated that since before creation, God had the choice of creating any one of a multitude of worlds, and since the omnipotent and all good God chose to create this world, it must be the best possible world.  Plantinga asserts, however, that neither argument is correct, and that even though God is omnipotent, He could not just call into existence “any possible world He pleased.”  Due to the fact that humans are free to make choices based upon experiences, whether or not humans perform good or evil is ultimately up to the human, not God.  Although there are many possible worlds that contain moral good without moral evil, this world does not have to be the best of all possible worlds.  Additionally, due to the freedom of action ascribed to humans, God could not create any one of a multitude of worlds, however, He does retain omnipotence.   

In response to the claim that god could have created a world containing moral good but no moral evil, Plantinga argues that in creating a world in which God actively causes people to do good, they are no longer free.  Plantinga brings about the idea of transworld depravity, and argues that if a person suffers from transworld depravity, God cannot actualize a world in which that person maintains his/her freedom and yet does no wrong.  In order to create a world containing only moral good yet also containing people suffering from transworld depravity, God would have to create people who were significantly free but at the same time would, by virtue of their transworld depravity, at some point commit evil in regards to at least one action in any possible world.  Thus, the consequence of creating a world in which these sufferers of transworld depravity commit moral good is creating a world in which these persons commit at least one morally evil act.   

Plantinga, Alvin.  God, Freedom, and Evil.  Harper and Row, 1974. 


This view was later criticized by Anthony Flew and J.L.Mackie, who both argue that God could have chosen to create good people who still possessed free-will and chose only the good.

Using evil to produce good

Those who argue that the deity is using evil to bring about good and so somehow good produces good have to contend with the following counter argument that establishes that there must be some evil that does not produce the good in any way: that there is a high probability that there exists purely gratuitous moral evil.:

The Evidential Problem of Evil : The inductive argument against the existence of the all perfect deity  

William Rowe

It is possible that there are and have been acts of evil that have not led to any good result whatsoever.  Thus, the argument to defend god based on the claim that the deity is using evil for some good purpose is defeated. Based on the mere possibility of an act of evil, human suffering, that is completely gratuitous. It would be an act in which a human does an evil act and another human suffers as a result but he act is not witnessed by anyone and both the evil doer and the victim of the evil deed die without communicating it to anyone directly or indirectly. It is possible for such an act to occur and is so then there would be no possibility for it to teach any lesson to anyone. There would be no possibility for it to lead to a greater good.   

This is an inductive argument because it is based upon possibility.  It defeats the defense of the existence of an all perfect deity that is all good and all powerful and all knowing at the same time.

Rowe’s argument states the following “There is, in all probability, at least one instance of suffering that is completely pointless. If there were a God, He would not have allowed any completely pointless instances of suffering. So, it is quite probable that God does not exist.    This simple, concise proof makes the existence of God very unlikely granted the fact of pointless suffering in the world. Obviously this argument is valid, but the terms must be clarified to understand the full power of this demonstration. The God that Rowe is referring to is the traditional God of Christian Theism, a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly benevolent. An instance of pointless suffering would be one that God "could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good" (Rowe 87). Thus, God would be permitting pointless suffering if, by not intervening, an obvious opportunity for some greater good was lost, or an even more horrific evil was to result.  He mentions the example of a suffering young fawn: "suppose in some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire, the fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering" (Rowe 88). Now it seems quite evident that "no greater good . . . would have been lost had the fawn's suffering been prevented" (Rowe 88). Therefore, you may conclude that such suffering was, in all probability, pointless.  Probability is dependent on the amount of background information and, therefore, one would require omniscience to know the full extent of the above example. To this objection, the atheist may respond in the form of a question: is it reasonable to hold that throughout the entire course of human history, there was not at least one case of pointless suffering?  Think of Hitler's butchering of six million Jews during the Second World War.  Was not a single one of those deaths pointless, given the others?  Think about the Crusades and the slaughtering of innocent women and children by "Christians" who claimed to have permission from God Himself. Is it not eminently reasonable to hold that at least one of these instances of innocent suffering was pointless? To establish the second premise, all that is needed is one such case.  -Francesca Sinatra (QCC, 2003)

“Evolution and the Problem of Evil” by Paul Draper 

Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004)

Draper, although hopeful that theism is true, points out that there are two problems that may prevent theism from being true.  Those two problems are evolution and evil.  Draper uses evidential arguments (arguments that are based upon certain known facts) to show that naturalism (denial of any supernatural involvement in creation) is more likely than theism (the idea that a supernatural being “God” created the world).  Draper attempts to show that evolution is more likely to be true on evolution than on theism.  He points out that for naturalists, there is a lack of plausible alternatives to evolution, while for the theist, who starts out with such grandiose things as omniscience and omnipotence, anything is possible.  Some theists argue that the complex and well ordered evolution of some beings is not possible without divine intervention.  Draper gives the example of the human eye.  Some theists argue that evolution cannot completely explain exactly how the eye became so incredibly complex.  However, Draper points out that no one has yet to offer solid reasons why evolution could not have achieved the complexity seen in the human eye.  While Draper admits that there are some gaps in the knowledge that we have regarding evolution, he counters the arguments based upon these gaps by saying that there is no good reason to believe that naturalist solutions to the problems or questions relating to evolution will eventually be found, as many have already been discovered.     

Draper then goes on to discuss the pattern of pleasure and pain in conjunction with evolution as an evidential argument for naturalism over theism.  Draper points out that there are countless connections between pain, pleasure and reproductive success.  He notes that humans certainly find “a warm fire on a cold night” preferable to “lying naked in a snowbank,” and then he connects these instances to reproduction.  In order for humans to be successful in reproduction, they must maintain a constant body temperature.  Additionally, Draper notes that children enjoy playing with one another, which, he argues is the development of a social skill that heightens one’s chances of future procreation.  By pointing out that the blind process of natural selection is what drives evolution and that often a strong trait (such as walking upright) that gives a species reproductive advantages would be furthered even though it may also come with weaker traits (such as back and foot problems), Draper argues that natural selection is much more probable on evolutionary naturalism than on theism.  Additionally, if natural selection drives evolution, it is most likely that the evolution of pain and pleasure also arose from natural selection, thus inherently linking pain and pleasure to reproductive success. Draper says that this idea is furthered by our knowledge that many parts of organic systems are methodically conjoined to reproductive success.  Draper states that, “the biological goal of reproductive success does not provide an omnipotent omniscient creator with a morally sufficient reason for permitting humans and animals to suffer in the ways they do or for limiting their pleasure to the sorts and amounts we find.”  Therefore, Draper concludes, pain and pleasure and their connection to reproduction must be more probable on evolutionary naturalism than on theism.  The moral randomness of pleasure and pain (i.e. good persons suffering intense pain and bad persons experiencing great pleasure) is much more likely if the cause of pleasure and pain is related to evolutionary naturalism than to a supernatural God.  Although neither naturalism nor theism has been proven to be true or false, Draper argues that the ratio of the probability of naturalism is much greater than the ratio of the probability of theism.  Since theism and naturalism are opposite hypotheses, they cannot both be true simultaneously.  Therefore, all things considered, evolution and natural selection provides a powerful argument against theism.   

Draper, Paul.  “Evolution and the Problem of Evil.”  Philosophy of Religion, An Anthology. 

Louis P. Pojman, ed.  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1998.   

1.  An Atheistic Perspective    by  Thomas Rauchenstein.  

CH-3-Documents\ch3- Evident prob of evil.pdf

2.  Why Does God Allow "Pointless Suffering"? For a Greater Good?  by Luke Wadel 

3. The Problem of Evil and Suffering: Gaining Perspective  Dr. Peter E. Payne

4. God, Evil and Probabilistic Arguments by Paul Pardi

 5.  The Evidential Argument from Evil (1998)   Nicholas Tattersall 

6. Reply to Rowe by Michael Bergmann & Daniel Howard-Snyder

An extensive and polemical essay on Theodicy 

Evil and the Power of God by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis : The impossibility of God’s doing away with evil is explored by C.S. Lewis 

READ: C. S. Lewis and David Hume on the Problem of Evil

Theodicy, the Free Will Defense and the Nature of God in the Presence of Moral Evil

Perhaps the most common theodicy is the so-called free-will argument - very similar to Augustine's argument.  God creates humans with free will because that is better (more perfect) than to create them without free will.  God who is all perfect must do what is the best.  To create humans who would only do good would be to deny them free will.  It is free will that is the source of evil and not the God that created the evil doers. 

The argument:

1. Evil is the result of human error

2. Human error results from free-will (the ability to do wrong)

3. If we didn't have free-will we would be robots

4. God prefers a world of free agents to a world of robots

5. Evil is therefore an unfortunate - although not unavoidable outcome - of free-will

6. For God to intervene would be to go take away our free-will

7. Therefore, God is neither responsible for evil nor guilty of neglect for not intervening

Argument against the free will defense:

Consider these cases meant to illustrate that the deity is not removed from responsibility for evil even if humans have free will.

Free Will Defense 1:  The deity is not responsible for the evil but people are responsible all by themselves and without the involvement of the deity because they have and use free will to choose evil.

If people do exactly what their deity created them to do then why would they be punished for doing what the creator created them to do?  If the creator knows that the fetus will become a child and grow into a mass murderer and the deity proceeds to allow the conception and the birth and the growth of that human being and then allows that being to get the means together and commit the murders then why would the human being be punished for what the creator-deity made that human being to do?   If it is the choice of the human to kill was it not the choice of the creator to make the being that will choose to do the evil?

Counter Example Situation 1

Let's say I run a sports and gun shop in a small town. Someone I know, Joe, comes running into the store and wants to but an automatic weapon. Joe is very agitated and angry and he tells me hat he hates all those women across the street in the bakery shop and he is going to teach them a lesson. I tell him that he should not hurt anyone. He says sell me the gun and I do. He tells me he is going to kill those women. I tell him it is wrong to do that and he should not do that. He asks me to sell him the ammunition for the weapon he just bought and I sell it to him. He says he will kill every last one of those women and I say he must not do it. I tell him it is very bad. He asks me to show him how to shoot the weapon and I teach him. I warn him again not to use it to kill people. He goes out of the store and crosses the street and kills everyone of the women.

When the police question me, I tell them the whole story and I point out that it was not my fault because Joe had free will and I warned him and told him not to do it!

Well, most humans would hold me responsible just based on what it was reasonable to think that Joe would do given what Joe said before leaving my store. If I am responsible in part for the killings then what about God who gave Joe life and knew for sure what Joe would do with that life?   I only know pretty darn well what he would do with the weapon. God knows for sure and can stop anything. Or else, God does not know or God does not have all power.

Free Will Defense 2:   The deity is not responsible for the evil but people are responsible all by themselves and without the involvement of the deity because they have and use free will to choose evil.

Counter Example Situation 2

I ask some human being, say Susan, to baby sit for a group of eight children aged 3 to 7.  I ask Susan to watch them for 5 hours.  They are playing in the very large ballroom of a mansion.  In the ballroom are a large number of toys, electronic games and small rides for children.  Some workers had been removing paint from the iron windows and left cans of paint at the far end of the ballroom where the windows are.  There is also paint remover, thinners, flammable liquids and a blowtorch they have been using to get the old paint off of the window frames.  I instruct Susan to keep the children at the end of the ballroom far away from the painters’ materials.  I return five hours later to find the mansion on fire, Susan out in front with three of the children.  The other children were trapped inside and burned to death.  I ask her what happened and she said she stepped out of the ballroom for a break and when she returned it was on fire.  I ask her how she could do such a thing and she replies that she only stepped out for five minutes and he warned the children before she did so not to touch the materials at the end of the ballroom near the windows.  She told them that it was very dangerous.  They touched those things anyway.  She claims it was not her fault that she warned them, that she didn’t know what would happen.  Now if some human made those claims there are few rational adults who would not think that the person who was left to watch the children was responsible for the harm that came to them.  That Susan should have known. 

If this is what we would think about Susan, then what should we think about GOD, who is supposed to know everything about the past, present and future and is all powerful as well?  Is God responsible for EVIL?   If we would hold Susan responsible in part for the harm to the children then even more so we must hold the deity responsible for evil since the deity that is all knowing and all powerful could have and should have stopped it as Susan should have stayed with the children to prevent harm.

Counter Example Situation 3

Now think. If the deity made the humans to do the evil knowing they would choose the evil then is the deity also responsible for that evil? THINK

Suppose a deity with ALL KNOWLEDGE knows the future.   The deity says to you and I if we go through door #3 we will produce a child that will murder more than 550 people.  We hear what the deity tells us and believe that the deity knows the future and then we go through door #3. The child grows up and kills 550 people.

Would you and I be responsible for those deaths in any way?  We might have gone through door#1 or door #2 or door #4 etc... but we chose #3 after knowing what would come if we did so.

Well, if we would be in part responsible so would the deity who knows in advance and then chooses to create or allow to be conceived the killer of 550 people.

Free Will Defense 3:  The deity is supposed to be all perfect and all good , all knowing and all powerful at the same time.


1) The deity permits evil as a a consequence of creating creatures with free will.  


2)There is no way to have creatures with free will and not permit the possibility for a creature actually choosing evil.


3) The deity knows in advance of a creature coming into existence all that the creature will choose and do.


4) This is not a denial of the creature's freedom but only foreknowledge of what the creature will do.

bullet5) If the deity were not to allow for evil and the evil acts it would make puppets/robots of humans.  

Counter Example Situation 3 

A manufacturer of automobiles make two different models.  The testing of one model prior to sale indicates that it has defects in the brake system likely to cause brake failure, accidents, injuries and deaths. The other model is tested and the results indicate no problems at all.  The manufacturer decides to proceed with the production and sale of both models.  The model with known faults does have numerous brake failures resulting in many injuries and deaths.  The manufacturer is held liable for those injuries and deaths due to prior knowledge of the defect and the likelihood of brake failure resulting in injuries and deaths.

Now if instead of the manufacturer of automobiles the deity is the creator of humans.  The deity knows in advance how each human will use free will the deity has given the human.  The deity knows in advance which humans will use free will to choose evil.  The deity knows in advance which humans will use free will to choose evil.  The deity chooses which humans will actually be born and survive and live to do those things he deity knows in advance that they will choose to do of their own free will.

There would be no denial of free will and no making of puppets out of humans if the deity choose that the humans who choose evil instead of good are not born in the first place.  Such humans would be conceived but not born, experiencing a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage or were to die soon after birth and before the start of the evil doing.  But evidence is that if there is a deity then the deity chooses not to act in this way and so the deity chooses the evil to occur through the actions of the humans that were created by the deity knowing in advance of their actual physical existence that they would choose evil.   Thus, the deity is responsible for the evil acts and their consequences.  Therefore the deity cannot be all good and all knowing and all powerful at the same time.

The Free Will Defense does not really solve the Problem of Evil for the deity is seen as not being all good because the being is in part responsible for evil.

Free Will Defense 4:  The deity is testing humans by giving them free will in order to determine if they will use that free will to do good or to do evil.  Those who use free will to choose the good will be rewarded and those who choose evil will be punished.

 If god is giving a test what kind of a being would that make god?  If god is all-knowing would god know the results of all such tests before the tests were even administered?      If god made humans and made them with free will and knows before they are born how they will use that free will and then goes ahead and makes them be born,

1. where is the freedom of choice?
2. how is god not responsible for what his creatures do?
3. what is the point of any test when the results are known before the test is given?

Counter Example Situation 4  If I knew in advance everything my dog was going to do and then let my dog loose and it bit someone I would be responsible for that harm!  Why isn't the deity responsible for what the deity knows its creations will do before they are even created?  After all according to the belief system in the Supreme Being that is all-perfect, the deity chooses who to create!!!!!

When you consider that the problem of evil arises for a deity that is all good and all-knowing and all powerful at the same time then this idea of testing/punishing humans presents problems of inconsistency because one or more of the aspects of the deity appear to be incompatible with another.  With the testing/punishing explanation and defense the deity is the author of the evil or not an all good or all merciful and all loving being.  The testing/punishing explanation and defense would have the deity punishing creatures for failing a test when the outcome was known before the test took place.

Counter Example Situation 5  If an instructor gave an examination to a class and the instructor knew that the materials on  the exam had not been covered in the course and that few , if any, students would be able to pass the examination, well what sort of an instructor would that be?  Why is not the deity that is all knowing not in the same position as that instructor in terms of fairness and justice?  This argument by analogy is offered to defeat the defense of the deity as being all good based on the idea that the deity is using evil to test humans (creatures with free will).

This defense (Evil is part of a Test) does not really solve the Problem of Evil for it challenges the characteristic of an all perfect being being all good and all just.


What each of the defenses of the supreme being does is to subtly alter the idea of the Supreme Being by weakening or ignoring one or more of the characteristics of that being that led to or created the inconsistency or contradiction that is termed the "Problem of Evil".  In each of these defenses the deity permits or creates evil or is unable or unwilling to reduce or remove evil.

Theodicy Defense or Gambit or Ploy Weakens or ignores
Humans have Fallen and need to develop the all powerful nature or the all good nature of the supreme being
Soul Building- the all powerful nature or the all good nature of the supreme being
Avoiding Robots the all powerful nature or the all good nature of the supreme being
Testing Humans the all knowing  nature or the all good nature of the supreme being
Using evil for some good purpose the all good nature of the supreme being

The defenses do not succeed against the criticisms and do not solve the Problem of Evil so that the traditional nature of the Supreme Being is preserved and seen as consistent with the existence of moral evil because they in one form or another rely upon the altering of the idea of the supreme being by either reducing or denying one of its characteristics that is responsible for the problem in the first place.

Further readings:

bullet"God, Evil, and Suffering", preprint of a paper by Daniel Howard-Snyder (Western Washington University), in Reason for the Hope Within, ed. Michael Murray, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, 76-115
bullet Essays, and Reviews of Books, on the Problem of Evil, selected by Jeffrey Lowder (Past President, Internet Infidels, Inc.)
bullet"The Evidential Argument from Evil", a paper by Nicholas Tattersall, 1998
bullet"Review of Andrea Weisberger, Suffering Belief: Evil and the Anglo-American Defence of Theism (1999)", by Graham Oppy
bullet"An Atheological Argument from Evil Natural Laws", a preprint of a paper by Quentin Smith (Western Michigan University), in International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 29 (1991): 159-174.

If the Problem of Evil as it has been approached by the theodicists has not been solved or dealt with in a manner that satisfies critics what other approaches may be taken? The other three options will now be examined.


II. Transforming the idea of evil

Evil is only a part of the overall good and does not exist in itself

 If the deity is all perfect then any universe created by that deity could not be anything less than perfect.  This universe that does exist must therefore be the best possible.  If this is so and there is what appears to be evil in this universe then that evil is not really evil at all but some necessary part or feature of the best of all possible worlds.  Humans do not have the viewpoint of the deity.  Humans cannot see the universe as seen by the deity.  Humans focus on some aspect of the whole and give it a name "evil" and then think that evil has some existence or fore on its own.  When the entire creation is seen by the deity it appears to be beautiful and what humans call evil is seen by the deity as necessary feature of the overall beautiful creation.  

Humans cannot get past the human perspective that is finite.  Humans are viewing the canvas of a beautiful oil painting.  They view the work of art by standing very close and focusing on the dark smudges (dabs of gray and brown and black paint) which they call evil.  However, if the viewer would step back the viewer of the painting see the beauty of the work and the dabs of paint previously thought to be ugly or evil would be seen as all part of the beautiful work of art.  The problem is that humans cannot step back and view the painting for the view of the deity.  So, for humans here is the appearance of the feature that they call evil.  From the viewpoint of the deity that which humans call evil is not evil at all but a part of the overall creation.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz  

For this philosopher God allows temporary evil for the greater good and is actually part of the good.  This world (universe) created by the all perfect deity would need to be the very best possible world because an all perfect being could not produce anything less than the very best.

World=Best of All Possible Worlds  

The evil that appears to humans as part of the best of all possible worlds is not so evil from the divine view-God’s eye view.  Evil is not evil from God’s view, the infinite view .

1) If God were all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, then this world would be the best possible world.

2) But surely this world is not the best possible world.

3) Thus, God is not all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.

Leibniz believed that the evidence that the conclusion of this argument was false was simply overwhelming. So, Leibniz needed to look carefully at the two premises in this argument in an attempt to falsify at least one of them. He was by his faith committed to accepting the first premise as true and so he wanted to reject the second. Leibniz held that the second premise was false and that this world is the best of all possible worlds.

Leibniz held that humans can not possibly know how changing certain events in this world would make it any better than it is and has been. Thus, humans can not support the claim that this world is not as good as it can be and in fact the best possible of all worlds.  Humans have not an infinite perspective and amount of knowledge-God's view- that would enable them to conclude that this world is not the best possible.  If they could have such knowledge they would see how all that is and has been makes for the best possible world that could exists and thus whatever evil does exist is in some sense necessary for the production of the most wonderful, most beautiful world possible.

see further: Leibniz on the Problem of Evil in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Selections from The Theodicy


From Gottfried W. Leibnitz, The Philosophical Works of Leibnitz, trans. George M. Duncan, pp. 194-197, 202-204. Published, 1890, by Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor. In the public domain.

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Abridgment of the Argument Reduced to Syllogistic Form

Some intelligent persons have desired that this supplement should be made [to the Theodicy], and I have the more readily yielded to their wishes as in this way I have an opportunity to again remove certain difficulties and to make some observations which were not sufficiently emphasized in the work itself.

I. Objection. Whoever does not choose the best is lacking in power, or in knowledge, or in goodness.

God did not choose the best in creating this world.

Therefore God has been lacking in power, or in knowledge, or in goodness.

Answer. I deny the minor, that is, the second premise of this syllogism: and our opponent proves it by this.

Prosyllogism. Whoever makes things in which there is evil, which could have been made without any evil, or the making of which could have been omitted, does not choose the best.

God has made a world in which there is evil; a world, I say, which could have been made without any evil, or the making of which could have been omitted altogether.

Therefore God has not chosen the best.

Answer. I grant the minor of this prosyllogism; for it must be confessed that there is evil in the world which God has made, and that it was possible to make a world without evil, or even not to create a world at all, for its creation depended on the free will of God; but I deny the major, that is, the first of the two premises of the prosyllogism, and I might content myself with simply demanding its proof; but in order to make the matter clearer, I have wished to justify this denial by showing that the best plan is not always that which seeks to avoid evil, since it may happen that the evil be accompanied by a greater good. For example, a general of the army will prefer a great victory with a slight wound to a condition without wound and without victory. We have proved this more fully in the large work by making it clear, by instances taken from mathematics and elsewhere, that an imperfection in the part may be required for a greater perfection in the whole. In this I have followed the opinion of St. Augustine, who has said a hundred times, that God permitted evil in order to bring about good, that is, a greater good; and that of Thomas Aquinas' (in libr. II sent. dist. 32, qu. I, art. 1), that the permitting of evil tends to the good of the universe. I have shown that the ancients called Adam's fall felix culpa, a happy sin, because it had been retrieved with immense advantage by the incarnation of the Son of God, who has given to the universe something nobler than anything that ever would have been among creatures except for this. And in order to a clear understanding, I have added, following many good authors, that it was in accordance with order and the general good that God gave to certain creatures the opportunity of exercising their liberty, even when he foresaw that they would turn to evil, but which he could so well rectify; because it was not right that, in order to hinder sin, God should always act in an extraordinary manner.

To overthrow this objection, therefore, it is sufficient to show that a world with evil might be better than a world without evil; but I have gone even farther in the work, and have even proved that this universe must be in reality better than every other possible universe.

II. Objection. If there is more evil than good in intelligent creatures, then there is more evil than good in the whole work of God.

Now, there is more evil than good in intelligent creatures.

Therefore there is more evil than good in the whole work of God.

Answer. I deny the major and the minor of this conditional syllogism. As to the major, I do not admit it at all, because this pretended deduction from a part to the whole, from intelligent creatures to all creatures, supposes tacitly and without proof that creatures destitute of reason cannot enter into comparison nor into account with those which possess it. But why may it not be that the surplus of good in the non-intelligent creatures which fill the world, compensates for, and even incomparably surpasses, the surplus of evil in the rational creatures? It is true that the value of the latter is greater; but, in compensation, the other are beyond comparison the more numerous, and it may be that the proportion of number and of quantity surpasses that of value and of quality.

As to the minor, that is no more to be admitted; that is, it is not at all to be admitted that there is more evil than good in the intelligent creatures. There is no need even of granting that there is more evil than good in the human race, because it is possible, and in fact very probable, that the glory and the perfection of the blessed are incomparably greater than the misery and the imperfection of the damned, and that here the excellence of the total good in the smaller number exceeds the total evil in the greater number. The blessed approach the Divinity, by means of the Divine Mediator, as near as may suit these creatures, and make such progress in good as is impossible for the damned to make in evil, approach as nearly as they may to the nature of demons. God is infinite, and the devil is limited; good may and does advance ad infinitum, while evil has its bounds. It is therefore possible, and is credible, that in the comparison of the blessed and the damned, the contrary of that which I have said might happen in the comparison of intelligent and non-intelligent creatures, takes place; namely, it is possible that in the comparison of the happy and the unhappy, the proportion of degree exceeds that of number, and that in the comparison of intelligent and non-intelligent creatures, the proportion of number is greater than that of value. I have the right to suppose that a thing is possible so long as its impossibility is not proved; and indeed that which I have here advanced is more than a supposition.

But in the second place, if I should admit that there is more evil than good in the human race, I have still good grounds for not admitting that there is more evil than good in all intelligent creatures. For there is an inconceivable number of genii, and perhaps of other rational creatures. And an opponent could not prove that in all the City of God, composed as well of genii as of rational animals without number and of an infinity of kinds, evil exceeds good. And although in order to answer an objection, there is no need of proving that a thing is, when its mere possibility suffices; yet, in this work, I have not omitted to show that it is a consequence of the supreme perfection of the Sovereign of the universe, that the kingdom of God be the most perfect of all possible states or governments, and that consequently the little evil there is, is required for the consummation of the immense good which is there found. . . .

VIII. Objection. He who cannot fail to choose the best, is not free. God cannot fail to choose the best.

Hence, God is not free.

Answer. I deny the major of this argument; it is rather true liberty and the most perfect, to be able to use one's free will for the best, and to always exercise this power without ever being turned from it either by external force or by internal passions, the first of which causes slavery of the body, the second, slavery of the soul. There is nothing less servile than to be always led toward the good, and always by one's own inclination, without any constraint and without any displeasure. And to object therefore that God had need of external things, is only a sophism. He created them freely; but having proposed to himself an end, which is to exercise his goodness, wisdom determined him to choose those means best fitted to attain this end. To call this a need is to take that term in an unusual sense which frees it from all imperfection, just as when we speak of the wrath of God.

Seneca has somewhere said that God commanded but once but that he obeys always, because he obeys the laws which he willed to prescribe to himself; semel jussit semper paret. But he had better have said that God always commands and that he is always obeyed; for in willing, he always follows the inclination of his own nature, and all other things always follow his will. And as this will is always the same, it cannot be said that he obeys only that will which he formerly had. Nevertheless, although his will is always infallible and always tends toward the best, the evil, or the lesser good, which he rejects, does not cease to be possible in itself; otherwise the necessity of the good would be geometrical (so to speak), or metaphysical and altogether absolute; the contingency of things would be destroyed, and there would be no choice. But this sort of necessity, which does not destroy the possibility of the contrary, has this name only by analogy; it becomes effective, not by the pure essence of things, but by that which is outside of them, above them,--namely, by the will of God. This necessity is called moral, because, to the sage, necessity and what ought to be are equivalent things; and when it always has its effect, as it really has in the perfect sage, that is, in God, it may be said that it is a happy necessity. The nearer creatures approach to it, the nearer they approach to perfect happiness. Also this kind of necessity is not that which we try to avoid and' which destroys morality, rewards and praise. For that which it brings, does not happen whatever we may do or will, but because we will it well. And a will to which it is natural to choose well, merits praise so much the more; also it carries its reward with it, which is sovereign happiness. And as this constitution of the divine nature gives entire satisfaction to him who possesses it, it is also the best and the most desirable for the creatures who are all dependent on God. If the will of God did not have for a rule the principle of the best, it would either tend toward evil, which would be the worst; or it would be in some way indifferent to good and to evil, and would be guided by chance: but a will which would allow itself always to act by chance, would not be worth more for the government of the universe than the fortuitous concourse of atoms, without there being any divinity therein. And even if God should abandon himself to chance only in some cases and in a certain way (as he would do, if he did not always work towards the best and if he were capable of preferring a lesser good to a greater, that is, an evil to a good, since that which prevents a greater good is an evil), he would be imperfect, as well as the object of his choice; he would not merit entire confidence; he would act without reason in such a case, and the government of the universe would be like certain games, equally divided between reason and chance. All this proves that this objection which is made against the choice of the best, perverts the notions of the free and of the necessary, and represents to us even the best as evil; to do which is either malicious or ridiculous.



So, with Leibniz, the moral evil that humans do in some way is part of the good or is necessary for the good and so is not quite evil in an absolute sense but only evil in a relative sense as humans cannot understand how it would be good as it is necessitated by the "good" and contributes to the "good".  Somehow from the perspective of the all good and perfect deity the moral evil is part of the beautiful and good creation that is the "best of all possible worlds".

Well there are many who prefer to think of evil as an independent being or separate existence or force.  The stories in the myths of many of the world religions present it as such and it is difficult for those from the cultures having those religions to think of evil as something other than an agent or thing in itself.  Nevertheless the approach taken by Leibniz and others to the Problem of Evil handles it by dissolving the evil and reconfigures the problem as a human creation -not the actions that would be commonly called "evil"  but the idea of "evil " itself.  In this view, the ideas of both "good " and "evil" are human creations and they appear generate a conflict in the idea of the all perfect and all good deity with the existence of moral evil.  When the nature of the deity and its creation are properly understood that conflict dissolves.

After Leibniz some other philosophers and religious commentators have gone further.  For some of them it is an indisputable fact that humans create the idea of the deity after their own characteristics and then further project into the idea of the deity all of the qualities considered as being positive or good and make them into perfections.  One of many results is the problem of the inconsistency of the properties of the deity (all good and all powerful and all knowing) with the existence of moral evil. Now in order to resolve or dissolve the conflict one would need to realize that the creation of the concepts of "good" and "evil" by humans does not necessitate the actual existence of paired entity or forces as the stories would have it.  Instead when considering the resultant inconsistencies in the projections and stories the resolution of some of them would be to simply hold that there could be such an all perfect deity at the same time as there is moral evil because the moral evil is not really the opposition to the good as a force or entity but is instead a direction away from the "good", however the "good" would be configured or conceived.

In the story book way of explanation it would be that humans cannot understand how the moral evil as part of the grand totality is really part of the "good" and contributes to it.  Such inclusions into the "good" and contributions to the "good" are held to be beyond human comprehension and understood only by the deity that has the infinite and complete perspective, viewpoints and capacity to understand.  So some hold that moral evil is not evil when understood from the perspective of the deity which is a perspective that is not possible for humans.  This position places the issue into the realm of mystery and beyond the realm of reason .  This is not acceptable to philosophical inquiry.  People, including philosophers, want to understand.

Where to turn next ?

There are those who do not accept that evil is not a thing itself.  They cannot accept that evil is not to be thought of a evil but as another form of the good.  If the deity cannot be all perfect and moral evil exist at the same time and if the idea of evil is not to be removed by transforming it into a form of the good then what else is to be done to solve this Problem of Evil?  There are an increasing number of people who are looking once again at the very idea of the deity and think that perhaps the idea is the source of the problem.  They would make adjustments in that idea.  In the next section Process Theology and Process Philosophy will be examined.



There is an approach to the problem of evil which changes the concept of the deity.  This approach has found more people willing to consider it and some to accept it in a post modern world.  The concept of the deity is not in conformity to the dogmas of the established religions of the West.  There are theologians in the religious traditions of the West who are willing to consider and some even accept that the traditional notion of the deity as a Supreme Being and an All Perfect being may not be the conception that is most consistent with the demands of reasoning. 

Although the idea can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (lived around 500 BC), the idea again became popular in the nineteenth century with the advent of the theory of evolution. The idea influence both philosophers and theologians.  One group of such theologians is in a tradition of thought known as Process Philosophy.  Associated with this approach are philosophers such as Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. Process philosophy and Open Theism--From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

bullet Process theology is a school of thought influenced by the metaphysical process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947).
bullet Open theism, a theological movement that began in the 1990s, is similar, but not identical, to Process theology.

In both views, God is not omnipotent in the classical sense of a coercive being. Reality is not made up of material substances that endure through time, but serially-ordered events, which are experiential in nature. The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God and creatures co-create. God cannot force anything to happen, but rather only influence the exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. See the entries on Process theology, Panentheism, and Open theism.

Process theology--From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Process theology (also known as Neoclassical theology) is a school of thought influenced by the metaphysical process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861 - 1947).

The concepts of process theology include:

God is not omnipotent in the sense of being coercive. The divine has a power of persuasion rather than force. Process theologians have often seen the classical doctrine of omnipotence as involving coercion (arguably mistakenly), and themselves claim something more restricted than the classical doctrine.

Reality is not made up of material substances that endure through time, but serially-ordered events, which are experiential in nature.

The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God cannot force anything to happen, but rather only influence the exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities.

God contains the universe but is not identical with it (panentheism)

Because God contains a changing universe, God is changeable (that is to say, God is affected by the actions that take place in the universe) over the course of time. However, the abstract elements of God (goodness, wisdom, etc.) remain eternally solid.

People do not experience a subjective (or personal) immortality, but they do have an objective immortality in that their experiences live on forever in God, who contains all that was.

Dipolar theism, or the idea that our idea of a perfect God cannot be limited to a particular set of characteristics, because perfection can be embodied in opposite characteristics; For instance, for God to be perfect, he cannot have absolute control over all beings, because then he would not be as good as a being who moved by persuasion, rather than brute force. Thus, for God to be perfect, he must be both powerful and leave other beings some power to resist his persuasion.

The original ideas of process theology were developed by Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000), and were later expounded upon by John B. Cobb and David Ray Griffin.

Process theology soon influenced a number of Jewish theologians including British philosopher Samuel Alexander (1859-1938), and Rabbis Max Kaddushin, Milton Steinberg and Levi A. Olan, Harry Slominsky and to a lesser degree, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Today some rabbis who advocate some form of process theology include Donald B. Rossoff, William E. Kaufman, Harold Kushner, Anton Laytner, Gilbert S. Rosenthal, Lawrence Troster and Nahum Ward.

Alan Anderson and Deb Whitehouse have attempted to integrate process theology with the New Thought variant of Christianity.

Thomas Jay Oord integrates process theology with evangelical, openness, and Wesleyan theologies.

 In their view the deity or "god' is seen less as an entity than as a process.  The reality of the deity has not been fixed and the being is still developing. The deity and its creations have a bipolar nature.  All existent entities have a mental pole or nature and a physical pole or nature as well.

For these philosophers traditional theism does not work, particularly when considering the discoveries of modern physics, so they conclude that a new concept of God,  is needed along with the view of the world we experience .

As they see it there are a number of problems with traditional theism

bulletGod’s determination of the future (or knowledge of it) conflicts with human freedom
bulletInfinite goodness is incompatible with evil
bulletProblems with a spiritual being as the cause of anything material
bulletScience and the Theory of Evolution has proven the account in Genesis wrong
bulletCreation of the entire universe from nothingness ( ex nihilo) is incoherent because it is thought to be metaphysically
bullet impossible to get something from nothing
bullet“beginning of time” is a self-contradictory notion
bulletGod’s consciousness cannot  change if it is of all infinity at once - but consciousness must change
bulletWhy would a deity want its creations to do anything if doing so does not bring about any change in an eternal deity?

The principle problem is that as the traditional concept of God is considered as incoherent or beset with problems, the traditional conception of deity has led to atheism: first the dualistic nature of the concept of god led to a materialistic science and secondly, there was no longer room for God or divine causation.

Dualism is the view that humans are composed of matter or physical substance (body)  and  spiritual substance (soul) .  But where is the soul to be located in the dualist view?  Is the soul in the body, or is the body in the soul?   How do two such dissimilar substances relate to one another or interact?  Materialism is the view that only matter exists - no non-physical substances exist.   Thus, if the non-physical or spiritual mind cannot influence the body (as there is no mind located in the physical body), then neither could a spiritual entity or deity (god) influence the material world.  There is also no way to explain how the physical universe or world could be in a spiritual being or entity such as a deity or god.

With materialism our knowledge is limited to what is empirically verifiable, what we can detect with our senses, perhaps aided by physical devices and mathematical analyses.  The non-physical or spiritual realm is not available to physical detection and so all claims about spiritual beings are beyond verification because they cannot be empirically detected or proven.  We cannot sense the deity (god) and so for materialism there is no such being.

So the metaphysical traditions of dualism and monism-materialism each present significant problems for the traditional conception of a deity.

With Process Metaphysics there is a different view of what is real.  There are no “substances” or static independent realities.  Instead, there are “actual entities” seen as a dynamic collection of events.  With this view because all is in causal motion, there is also creativity.  There are in addition to the actual entities “eternal objects” –patterns of events which permeate all reality.  Some philosophers called these the “universals”.  Within the Process view nature itself is comprised of creative, experiential events.

So how is the deity viewed by Process Theology?   The deity is thought of as the everlasting eternal entity.  The “god” is a dynamic collection of events, the pattern of which permeates all of reality.  

How does such a deity enable the Process Theologians to respond to the Problem of Evil?  Well to begin with the eternal process can only “create” a world with multiple finite freedom and any world with multiple finite freedom must contain the possibility of evil.  While no particular evil is necessary, the possibility of there being some evil is necessary.  The deity can influence all events, but only as persuasion.  Unfortunately in this view humans suffer more, because there are more possibilities open to them.

The traditional concept of the deity is further altered in that when considering the idea of a god’s Omniscience in the Process view the deity (god) does not know the future.  Since all events exercise some self-determination, the future is not knowable (in principle).  However, once something is, then God can know it. How does this change our concept of God?   The Process idea of the deity is not one of an all perfect being that is all knowing and all powerful and detached from the physical universe existing in an eternal spiritual realm.  Instead the deity is seen as existing both within and beyond the physical universe.  This is Panentheism.  The deity of process philosophy is viewed a partly in the creation and partly beyond or outside of its creation.  There is a relation of the creator to the creation.  It is one of cooperation.  The deity attempts to entice the creations to work with the deity but the creations (humans) cannot be forced to do so.  The deity acts on the creations through the attraction of its values.  The deity can influence the conscious creations but does not directly act upon them and does not force cooperation or compliance. 

Process Philosophy is now most commonly associated with the English philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), and his book Process and Reality: an Essay in Cosmology (1929) is considered one of the most important expositions of process philosophy.

The main application of Whitehead's position was put forward by his pupil, the American philosopher Charles Hartshorne (1897-1999), whose main works include The Divine Relativity (1948) and The Logic of Perfection (1962).


Two particularly good works on Process Theology are these:

Process Theology by John B. Cobb, Jr.  (ENTIRE BOOK) An outline of Process Theology, written by one of its creators.

What Is Process Theology? by Robert B. Mellert (ENTIRE BOOK) Dr. Meller writes about Whiteheadian thought, without the jargon and technical intricacies, so that the lay person might have better understanding of the thinking of the founder of process philosophy.


Consider this manifestation of the reworking of the idea of the deity away from the traditional and toward the post modern by the Roman Catholic priest who is head of the Vatican Observatory is a trained scientist.  Dr George Coyne has spoken and written about the relation of Religion to Science.  He has expressed his view that there need not be a conflict of religious belief with scientific findings. In the controversy concerning Intelligent Design and Evolution Dr. Coyne has expressed these views concerning the nature of the deity.

" Religious believers who respect the results of modern science must move away from the notion of a God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly.  God should be seen more as a parent or one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words.  Scripture is very rich in these thoughts.  It presents a God who gets angry , who disciplines, a God who nurtures the universe.  The universe has a certain vitality like a child does.  It has the ability to respond to words of endearment and encouragement...Words that give life arte richer than mere commands of information.  In such ways does God deal with the universe.  I claim that Intelligent Design diminishes God , makes her/him a designer rather than a lover. "  From  "The Pope's Astronomer" in New York Daily News, December 26, 2005, p. 33.

This sort of a deity can coexist with evil and work in subtle ways to counter it through the actions of those who would do such deeds as would be called evil.


There is no Problem of Evil if there is no deity, let alone an all perfect deity. For those who hold that every attempt at proving that there is a deity of any kind have failed because they are not psychologically convincing or logically compelling there is no Problem of Evil.  For such thinkers the only conclusion that can be reached in light of the absence of evidence and logical compulsion would be atheism- to believe that there are no deities of any kind.  For some thinkers , such as Michael Scriven, even agnosticism is not a legitimate position.

  1. Antony Flew, The Presumption of Atheism (London: Pemberton, 1976). 

  2. Antony Flew, "The Presumption of Atheism" in God, Freedom, and Immortality (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1984);

  3.  Norwood Russell Hanson, "What I Don't Believe" in What I Do Not Believe and Other Essays (ed. Stephen Toulmin and Harry W. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1971)

  4. Michael Martin,  The Gap in Theistic Arguments (1997)

  5. Michael Scriven, Primary Philosophy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966).

Other arguments against the existence of an all perfect deity or any deity:


The argument against atheism are the arguments in support of there being a deity and even a supreme being: a greatest conceivable being. (See the previous sections for those arguments.)

See also on the Problem of Evil ========================================================

Proceed to the next section for a summary view of all the arguments for and against the existence of GOD. 

Proceed to the next section.

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